Oct. 9, 2017
By Brad Muller | More Features
Athletes and fans love statistics. Lauren Lamendola wants to make sure members of her former team don’t become one. The former South Carolina All-American diver is an instructor in SASS (Surviving Assault Standing Strong) Defense, and recently hosted a class for the women’s swimming and diving team on campus.
“You learn to defend yourself in a lot of different ways, whether you’re being attacked from the front or from the back, if you’re being choked, if you’re on the ground, if you’re pinned up against the wall, or if you have two or three people come up to you,” Lamendola said. It’s really empowering.”
“I think we really got a lot of confidence out of it,” said senior Meredith Vay, who originally contacted Lamendola about holding the class for the team. “It was empowering, knowing that we have these skills and that we could use them in the worst case scenario.”
Lamendola (2013-2016) currently works full time as a nurse technician and became interested in becoming a SASS Defense instructor after taking a class at South Carolina.
“When I took the class, I saw a transformation,” Lamendola said. “I didn’t have a lot of confidence, and then I took this course. I learned how to defend myself and become more confident. I fell in love with watching women transform in a matter of hours. They can go from lacking confidence to being these super-powerful women who defend themselves, stand up for themselves and to say ‘no’ to sexual assault and violence.”
According to the SASS Defense web site, 1 out of every 6 women in America will be sexually assaulted, and 1 in 4 will experience violence in a relationship. Having those numbers in mind is what motivated Vay to seek out her former teammate.
“Statistically, that could be eight or more girls on our team,” Vay said. “That’s not OK with me. We need these skills because there is a very real possibility that these things could happen to any one of us, and we need to know how to defend ourselves.”
There were some things that were very eye-opening.
“I’ve been put in situations where I felt uncomfortable,” Lamendola said. “That’s eerie. It does happen. I’ve been put in situations where if I did not know how to say ‘no,’ it could have turned into something else. I know what it’s like to feel this pressure to fit in. In athletics, you’re always under a microscope and it’s so easy for people to get information about you.”
The SASS Defense system teaches women how to use their hands, feet, and voice to protect themselves with some maneuvers from Krav Maga, Judo, and Goju Ryu.
“More than I anything, I think I learned a lot about self-awareness,” said freshman Savannah Hillmeyer. “I have more of an ability to be confident in myself now. You don’t think you’re that powerful, but then you learn some of these moves, and you see the serious things you can do. It’s really good for your self-confidence.”
SASS Defense was started in 1997 by Dr. Ed Carney after realizing the need for women to protect themselves from violence in the shortest amount of time. Lamendola noted that the SASS Defense courses have become increasingly popular.
“We train a lot of women in South Carolina,” Lamendola said. “We train the Air and Army National Guard, law enforcement from Richland County, Lexington County and Orangeburg, SLED, SWAT, and USC police department. There are courses at the University of South Carolina and Columbia International University.”
The two hour class for the Gamecocks not only taught them physical techniques for warding off an attacker, but also provided some mental training.
“We went through a lot of scenarios and talked a lot about different behavior warnings, controlling behaviors, abuse, and criminal tactics,” Lamendola said. “When I first took the course, a lot of things that I thought were safe behaviors, were not. It’s a lot of mental training.”
“We learned a lot about how criminals pick out their targets,” Vay said. “She told us a lot about not being distracted when walking around, and how to be vigilant.”
“There were some things that were very eye-opening,” Hillmeyer added. “For example, sitting in your car in a garage and texting while you’re waiting on someone could be dangerous. You don’t know what’s going on around you. It was a little scary to see how your normal, everyday actions could be so risky.”
Lamendola said what she enjoys most about teaching the courses is seeing confidence instilled in the participants.
“When you’re confident in one area of your life, it can transfer into other areas as well,” Lamendola said. “I saw that in my senior year of diving.”
Lamendola plans on reaching out to other South Carolina athletics programs to gauge their interest in the course, and she was excited about the opportunity to work with her former team.
“I want them to know that their voice matters and that they know how to be confident without being fearful,” Lamendola said. “It’s our mission at SASS Defense where we want to make the world safer, one woman at a time. Every girl is worth fighting for. They don’t have to feel insecure, and they have the power to stand up for themselves and to notice when something doesn’t feel right so they can take the right steps.
“They’re my sisters. I love them so much. I would feel personally responsible if anything ever happened to them, and I hadn’t trained them. I think they walked out with a little more pep in their step. It was pretty special.”
“We’re athletes, and we’re strong,” Vay added. “We need to know how to use that strength to help ourselves.”
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